MP’s Russian assistant was no spy, says lawyer

If Katia Zatuliveter, the 26-year-old former assistant and lover of the Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock, was a Russian spy she would be the first anywhere in the world to fight the accusation in open court, her lawyer saidon Thursday.

Tim Owen QC argued that the only reason a senior MI5 officer was appearing at the special immigration appeals commission, Siac, where she is fighting deportation, was that there was “no actual evidence of Miss Zatuliveter spying”.

He added: “If there was evidence of her spying, you would be wholly surplus to requirements, wouldn’t you?” The MI5 officer, who described himself as a manager of agent operations but was identified only as AE, replied: “I understand your case and that may well be the point.”

AE told the hearing that though some of the enemies of Russia had changed since the 1980s, many of the characteristics remained today.

Referring to the Russian intelligence service, he said: “They are as important and influential in the Russian state as they were in the old days, and Russian espionage operations continue to be conducted. I think the point for me is that Russian espionage is probably as threatening for us as in the 1980s.”

Owen said Zatuliveter had revealed in her statement that she had joked about spying.

He read out: “I recall writing something like ‘I have managed to disable half of Nato by distracting Y from his work’ and then I wrote that I couldn’t continue writing the email because the Kremlin were calling me to congratulate me on my achievement.”

Owen commented: “It is a joke, isn’t it?”

AE said that was not the crux of the case and merely “added colour” to the allegations.

Owen argued that Zatuliveter’s diaries revealed her affairs to be genuine, including one with a “dishy Dutch diplomat” when she was just 18, whom she had written about like “a lovesick teenager”.

AE, who maintained that this did not prove she was not under the control of the Russian intelligence service, replied: “It is not our case, and we state this emphatically, that we believe the appellant’s feelings to be feigned.”

The journalist and spy writer Nick Fielding said that the case against Zatuliveter was “a risk assessment rather than an evidence-based case”.

Fielding, an expert witness for Zatuliveter, said: “It runs the risk of appearing like a bunch of drunks walking down the road.

“By adding bits to it you may think you make it stronger but if one of the bits doesn’t fit you run the risk of the whole thing collapsing.”

The commission, which is sitting in central London, went into closed session to hear evidence from MI5.

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